Lesson Plan

Bystanders in a Small Town

Watch a video on bystanders in the small town of Buczacz in the Ukraine by Facing History and Ourselves. Students will catch a glimpse of the side of the Holocaust that was not carried out by systematic murder in the camps.

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Enduring Understanding

Half of the Holocaust murders took place in small towns like Buczacz. In these towns, occupants knew their Jewish neighbors intimately- making their involvement more on the side of a perpetrator versus a bystander.

Essential Question

  • 1What stops a witness from taking action?


10 Min

Start off by asking students what they think a bystander is. Provide them with the official definition:
Bystander: a person who is present at an event or incident but does not take part.

Read the quote, “The one thing that does not abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.” By the character Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird to the class.

Ask the students what they think this quote means, how does it relate to being a bystander?


20 Min

Watch the video ‘When There Are No Bystanders (short version)‘ by Facing History and Ourselves.

Stop the video at the intervals below and ask the question that follows:

What impact do you think the area’s history of violence had on the villagers?
What choices did the villagers have to make? What were the consequences of each?
Do you believe Omer Bartov’s assertion that there are no bystanders in a small town? Why?


20 Min

Read the passage taken from the video out loud to the class:

“…when you look from the top and say, well, this was industrial murder. People from Berlin were put on a train. They went to Auschwitz. In 20 minutes, they were dead in a gas chamber. It was dehumanizing. It was mechanized. No one really was involved. Here, everyone was involved.”

Hold a class debate answering this question: Are the bystanders from a small town more guilty than the onlookers from a bigger city?

Divide the class in half. Have half of the class come up with some reasons why they believe bystanders from a small town are more guilty than onlookers from a big city. The other half will debate for the other side: that all bystanders are guilty the same, they could have all done something.

Wisconsin Academic Standards

This lessons meets the following Academic Standards required by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.

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